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Is the the Hindu Trimurti (Brahma - Vishnu - Mahesh) the same as the the Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity?

Are these 3 sides of one god?

  • They are similar but not exactly. If you look at Siva as the destroyer of the cycle, then it doesn't correspond to the Christian Holy Spirit. If you look on Siva as being the embodiment of bliss, then it does. If you look at it from the perspective of the Hindu Trimurti being the Saguna Brahman, then there is a 3 in one. The problem is that the Christian doctrine then stops at the 3 in one, but the Hindu continues and has the concept of Nirguna Brahman. The Hindu Trimurti (Sanguna Brahman) is the Nirguna Brahman when seen from the aspect of Maya. In Reality, there is no difference. – Swami Vishwananda Feb 2 '15 at 14:26
  • There was a philosophy developed in the West that is very similar to the Hindu concepts. This philosophy was developed by Plotinus (Greek philosopher, 3rd century b.c.) and is expounded in 'The Six Enneads' - very similar to Nirguna Brahman and a trinity of Saguna Brahman. – Swami Vishwananda Feb 2 '15 at 14:34
  • The question should be "Is Christrian Holy Trinity similar to or modelled after Hindu Trimurti" for, Hinduism predates all religions and would not copy or borrow from or modify their concepts. It is semantics but a very important distinction nonetheless. – user1195 Feb 2 '15 at 16:28
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    Do you want similarity between Hindu Trinity and Christian Trinity? or similarity between Hinduism (advaita vedanta concepts) and christian trinity? There are LOTS of similarities between the those. But the hindu trimurthi is probably not same as christian trinity (unless one makes great amount of fill in the gaps and assumptions :P) – Sai Feb 2 '15 at 16:33
  • There is some evidence that Plotinus did visit the East before developing his philosophy. Some Western philosophers and theologians believe that the Christian triune Godhead was heavily influenced by Plotinus' writings. There is a good page on him on Wikipedia. – Swami Vishwananda Feb 3 '15 at 7:45
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Summary

While the Hindu concept of the trimūrti may superficially resemble the Christian Trinity in that both involve three members of a single Godhead, the concepts are far more different than similar. The individual members of the Hindu trimūrti are just illusory ways of conceiving the one same divine spirit of Brahman, and one can say that they are three sides to the same God, whereas the Christian Trinity involves three substantially different persons from the same Godhead that are one in will, action, knowledge (for the most part), and essence--the three persons of the Christian Trinity are not three aspects or faces of the same God.

Full Explanation

The concept of the trimūrti (which does not belong to all Hindu ways of thought) is not exactly like the Christian concept of the Trinity. While in Hindu thought, the three members of the trimūrti are three sides to one God or Spirit, the three persons of the Christian Trinity are NOT three "aspects" or "sides" to one God--they are substantially distinct.

1) The Christian Trinity has three different persons, with real differences between each person. However, the Hindu conception of the trimūrti is similar to the Christian heresy of Sabellianism or modalism—that is, Viṣṇu, Brahmā, and Śiva are different aspects of Brahman, rather than being distinct persons, or different ways of conceiving the same Brahman, who acts in different roles at different times.

In the Christian Trinity, God the Son is begotten of God the Father, but not made from him; the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father through the Son, so to speak. They are different persons of the same God, with substantial differences—the Threeness of God is not some kind of illusion in Christianity.

In the trimūrti, Viṣṇu, Brahmā, and Śiva are three sides to the same “Spirit" (Brahman) but they are just different conceptions/aspects/faces/modes/parts. Swami Vishwananda, who commented above on your question, said it perfectly: "The Hindu trimūrti (saguṇa brahman) is the nirguṇa brahman when seen from the aspect of māyā. In reality, there is no difference." However, the Christian Trinity involves the supreme harmony and cooperation of three distinct persons of the same God, who have different familial relationships.

2) Viṣṇu, Brahmā, and Śiva, when acting as members of the trimūrti, do not always cooperate, according to some parts of Hindu scripture. However, the three persons of the Christian God always cooperate and share the same attributes—omniscience, omnipotence, et cetera--although God the Son may have had some qualities limited, or voluntarily limited some qualities, like his omniscience and his omnipresence, subsequent to the hypostatic union (that is, the union of the divine nature and will of God the Son with his human nature and will).

3) The roles of the members of each triad do not correspond. Viṣṇu is Brahman in the role of preservation, Brahmā is Brahman in the role of creation/generation, and Śiva is Brahman in the role of (impermanent) destruction. In Christianity, God the Father, God the Son, and the Holy Spirit ALL are involved in any action by God. Their wills are tied together (with God the Son, his divine will is tied together with the will of God; his human will is separate and unrelated) always, and so is their knowledge (except in some cases where God the Son chose to limit his omniscience--for example, regarding the timing of his Second Coming).

  • "Viṣṇu, Brahmā, and Śiva are different aspects of Brahman" Aren't you a follower of Madhvacharya? According to Dvaitam, Brahma and Shiva are jivatmas, not paramatma, and are thus not part of Brahman at all. Here is what Madhvacharya says in the Tatpara Nirnaya: archive.org/stream/MAHABHARATA/… "9. Lord Aniruddha then kept all those Jivas, who had no body except their Linga Shareera, including Swayambhu (Brahma), Vayu, Shesha, Garuda, Rudra and others, inside of his stomach. He then brought them out with a physical body one after the other." – Keshav Srinivasan Feb 27 '15 at 2:01
  • @KeshavSrinivasan: Yes, I know. I was speaking from the point of someone who believes in the Trimurti. Lack of belief in the Trimurti is a fundamental belief of Dvaita Vedanta. I said originally in my answer, "The concept of the trimūrti (which does not belong to all Hindu ways of thought) is not exactly like the Christian concept of the Trinity." Since the OP seems to hold this belief, it seemed irrelevant what my own beliefs were. – AdityaS Feb 27 '15 at 22:46
  • OK, in that sentence you said not everyone believes in the Trimurthi, but in the rest of your answer it sounded like you were claiming that this is what all Hindus believe. In any case, according to Sri Vaishnavism (which I belong to), Brahma and Shiva are just atmas, but we still believe in the notion of a Trimurthi. It's mentioned in Hindu scripture, like this chapter of the Vishnu Purana: sacred-texts.com/hin/vp/vp036.htm "Thus the one only god, Janárddana, takes the designation of Brahmá, Vishńu, and Śiva, accordingly as he creates, preserves, or destroys." – Keshav Srinivasan Feb 28 '15 at 0:13
  • I'm not sure how Madhvacharya interprets that line, but I wouldn't be surprised if Madhvacharya believed in some version of a Trimurthi. In any case, how Ramanujacharya interprets the line in his Vedartha Sangraha is that the Vishnu of the Trimurthi is an incarnation of the main Vishnu, the main Vishnu being the one who resides in Vaikuntha. – Keshav Srinivasan Feb 28 '15 at 0:18
  • The Vasudeva Mahatmya (a Pancharatra text in the Skanda Purana) also talks about the birth of beings called Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva from the actual Vishnu; see page 311 here: dspace.wbpublibnet.gov.in:8080/jspui/bitstream/10689/13008/6/… – Keshav Srinivasan Mar 4 '15 at 21:08

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